At OpenMedia, we cover a wide range of digital rights issues, and so we've really seen the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly when it comes to policy proposals over the years. And this one's a doozy: Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly is considering adding a new ISP tax to the monthly bills of Canada's Internet subscribers.
This new tax will make Internet access even more expensive, despite the fact that Canadians already pay among the highest prices in the industrialized world for this basic necessity. Indeed, fees are already so high that 44 per cent of low-income households do not have a home Internet connection, leaving vast numbers of Canadians excluded from our digital endowment.
The ISP tax is the brainchild of Canada's large publishers and broadcasters, who have been using government consultations about how to fund Canadian content to push their plan. In a nutshell, they want to burden Canadian Internet users with an ISP tax in order to subsidize industries that are struggling to adapt to the digital age.
If implemented, an ISP tax will have serious consequences for our digital future. Making our sky-high Internet bills even more expensive will make it even tougher for low-income Canadians to surmount barriers to access, excluding them from the benefits of the open Internet. An ISP tax will also force offline low-income Canadian households which are barely managing to afford Internet access, further exacerbating our stark digital divide.
Such a levy will especially impact residents of rural and northern Canada who, as a recent OpenMedia report revealed, are already coping with ridiculously high Internet costs, low data caps, and extortionate overage charges. Again, for many northern households, including many Indigenous and Inuit communities, an ISP tax could make the difference between having limited Internet access and being forced offline entirely.
If Canadian Heritage introduces an ISP tax, they will also completely undermine efforts by other parts of the government to make the Internet more accessible and affordable for Canadians -- a key component of Canada's overall digital strategy. Put simply, the ISP tax will mean Canada goes backwards, not forwards, when it comes to fostering innovation and connectivity.
Finally, while few of us enjoy paying taxes, most of us accept them as the price we pay to live in a cohesive society with decent public services. However, when you look at the industry-specific taxes that people find acceptable, they are overwhelmingly "sin taxes" on products like alcohol or tobacco that have clear negative impacts on our society. An ISP tax would be the opposite -- the Internet is a public good, and there is abundant evidence that maximizing access to the Internet has very positive impacts for society and for our digital economy.
Rather than pushing this regressive new tax, we can best support Canadian content by tackling affordability issues head on. By bridging the digital divide we can ensure that all Canadians can both access and create Canadian content. There are also sensible alternatives for funding Canadian content, such as applying sales taxes to foreign online streaming services, or redirecting the proceeds of wireless spectrum auctions.
OpenMedia will work hard to make sure the ISP tax never gets off the ground. Keep in touch by checking out our website at OpenMedia.org, or by following us on Facebook or Twitter at OpenMediaOrg.
David Christopher is communications manager for OpenMedia, which works to keep the Internet open, affordable, and surveillance-free.
Photo: Lindsey Turner/flickr
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